Driving between San Francisco and Los Angeles is a quintessential California experience. People do it all the time, visiting family or dropping off kids at college or simply taking a family road trip south to Disneyland or north to the cable cars.
But I’d never done it myself until this past weekend, when I drove down to L.A. on Saturday to pick up Sam and his bike after he completed the AIDS/LifeCycle ride.
It was almost exactly six hours door to door, including two gas stops, a quick food stop, and about ten minutes of driving around the L.A. Veterans Center trying to find where to park at the finish line of the ride.
It went easily and felt pretty fast. I had bought an audiobook of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (recommended!), which kept me absorbed for the middle, monotonous part of the drive. The Central Valley was prettier and less boring than I had expected it to be; the Grapevine was ruggedly beautiful; as I-5 approached the Tehachapis, I saw a tongue of fog licking over the ridge, and then the highway climbed into the fog and the temperature dropped by about 20 degrees.
And I felt like I had gone through some wormhole, a wrinkle in space.
We don’t visit L.A. a lot, and when we’ve gone, we’ve always flown. So L.A. has felt to me like A Place You Fly To, similar to New York or Cancun or Paris. And now suddenly I had driven there! And arrived before lunch! I had gotten into my car, put my foot on the gas pedal, and when I eventually lifted my foot I was in a distant part of the galaxy.
It was as miraculous as if I had driven to New York in six hours. It was a little disorienting, like waking up from anesthesia and not knowing where the past few hours went. It was expansive – wow, I could pop down to L.A. any weekend!
Driving took longer than flying, but psychologically it felt much closer. I guess it’s something about getting there under your “own” power, in your own car, without any tickets or lines or schedules, as simple as driving down the street to the grocery store.
I think this changes my view of the state. Suddenly L.A. isn’t a separate world; it’s down the road.
But actually, there are whole swathes of central California that I’ve never seen — Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, the central coast. Those would be good road trips too.
And in reality, of course, L.A. has more in common politically and culturally with the Bay Area than the huge chunk of the Central Valley that I drove through.
The enormous, geometric fields reaching east so far that I couldn’t see the Sierra. The little placards all along I-5 attacking Congressional Democrats for not giving farmers as much water in drought years as they want. The Latino moms shepherding little children in line behind me at the restrooms, the friendly Latino barista at the Starbucks drive-thru along the freeway, the hand-written sign for pupusas along the Button Willow exit ramp.
Passing RVs as I drove, I thought with a little regret that Becca has only a year left until college and we’ve never gotten around to doing one of those “see America first” road trips through California and the West.
But the flip side of that is: Becca is almost off to college. So there will soon be time for a lot more adult road trips through California and elsewhere.